By: Sapphire (aka Malachite157)
A red sunrise, the soft, wet grass. The crickets still chirping while the sun spills its first rays onto this side of the earth. A zephyr, cool and refreshing. The call of a barbet far off in the African veld. Silence.
Emerald stroked her cheek tenderly with a fallen feather of hers. As a robot, she had less feeling on the exterior of her body as a human did, but, in being part organic, her senses were heightened to the degree that she could enjoy its soft, light touch on her metallic skin. She was, for the moment, at peace.
And then it happened: the start of the events that would set in motion the cascading of her world all over again. As soon as she heard the crackle of her comm. she could feel the silence change its tone into an ominous one. Somehow she was deeply disturbed by the noise and she could not help shake the feeling of predestination.
"Yes, Uncle Rhinox?" she sighed as she stretched.
"Emerald, there's a meeting. We need you to come inside."
"A meeting? This early? That's new."
"I don't suppose any of us have been sleeping well, lately. No one seems to mind."
She left her spot in the morning sun, against the hull of the Axalon, and went inside.
The control room seemed to be in another time. The lights were dim and the atmosphere was one of late night. It was dark here; the warming, calming rays of the sun could not penetrate the steel cold wall of this broken ship. The drowsy, weary Beast Warriors moved into the room like limp shadows. Indeed, it was apparent, Emerald was not the only one suffering from nightmares due to recent events. Kaiya had left them all with a cold kiss.
Optimus emerged from the gloom into the dim spotlight shining over the table.
"Thank you all for being so punctual. I was going to have the meeting later, but seeing as everyone's wondering around like the living dead this morning, I decided we might as well get it out of the way."
"Dinobot has made an interesting, albeit alarming point. While Ka...while Kaiya has been destroyed..."
There was a collectively uncomfortable shift in the postures of the crew.
"There is now the possibility of retaliation by the Vok, in response to her death."
"Oh, that's great news," Cheetor mumbled.
"Now I doubt they'll use the same trick twice, but I expect by now they're extremely annoyed with our incompetence to die."
Rattrap snorted with a smirk at Optimus's rare show of dark humour.
"So I'm expecting a powerful attack of some kind in the near future."
There was a thoughtful silence before Cheetor spoke up again.
"Maybe they'll just give it a rest? It's Megs and his Pred's who're causing all the trouble. Why don't they bother them instead?"
"We're all a disturbance to their, 'project'," Dinobot growled. "I don't think they're one to choose sides."
Emerald glanced in the raptor's direction. He seemed like his normal, grouchy self, but there was pain in his eyes. He was seething with it in her perception, although everyone else cast a blind eye to it. Typical - they were all trying to handle their own personal battles and had left the ex-Predacon to grieve for his sister in silence. It was probably what Dinobot wanted - he did not enjoy people's pity. Even so...
"There's nothing we can do about it now," Optimus continued. "All I'm saying is keep on the alert for any strange activity, and don't go wandering far without telling someone of your whereabouts. Understood?"
There was a general murmur of agreement.
"You're dismissed," Optimus sighed and turned away. Rhinox spun his chair around to face the computers again. He was still analyzing Kaiya's internals, something which now seemed important for him to do.
As everyone drifted out of the control room, Emerald turned to go back outside. She caught Rattrap's eye as she did so. For a moment she paused and watched him. He looked at her longingly, apologetically. She lingered in a moment of uncertainty. Should she go to him? His eyes were pleading for her, pleading for something. Forgiveness? She had given him that. Yet he was sad. She could see it in his face.
She turned away, and walked into the elevator.
"I'm not going far, Uncle Rhinox. I'm just going to watch the sunrise outside the base," she said.
"All right, Emerald. Come back in fifteen. I need your help with something."
The glass door slid closed around her and she saw Rattrap watch her until she descended down and out of view.
Stirring in the early hours of the day were three others. They were concealed in a cavern, guarded by their brother and watched by their sister and her companion.
The dim glow of the energon cubes that bathed the newborns seemed to add to the eerie atmosphere. Tarantulas felt his metallic skin prickle as one by one the three of them transformed into robotic modes of splendor and power.
Galena took the lead in explaining to them their purpose, their function and their ultimate goal. Like drones, they responded with simple words: "'Affirmative', 'acknowledged' and 'understood'".
"We will rise up against this world's foes and destroy them! After that, we will challenge our greatest enemy, the Vok, successful and triumphant!"
Tarantulas cocked his head in her direction. "They seem awfully mindless. I think inspirational speeches are wasted on them."
Galena shrugged. "Perhaps, but it sure makes me feel big and important."
Tarantulas sighed and eyed them over.
The panther, Venox, was tall and elegant. He had fur covering the outer parts of his arm and his shins. His beast mode head rested on his chest and his legs were tucked up against the fur lining his back. His face was cat-like with red optics. The metal parts of him had a black-grey sheen to them while his fur was dark with darker prints of spots. His tail flicked from side to side behind him. His hands were clawed and in each of them he held a deep grey gun that had swirling green cyber venom glowing through the glass tube atop of the barrel.
Sandstone, the puma, was different in design. Her beast mode head pulled back so that it framed her head. Her shoulders had blades that jutted out, covered in fur. Her front beast mode legs were attached to her arms and her hind legs were twisted around on her back. She had fur on her shins and around her wrists, like bands. Her face was delicate and attractive with magenta optics and feminine, catty features. Her metal parts were a sandy brown-gold colour while her fur retained the colour of a puma. A bright red alien symbol was mounted on her torso plate which was rimmed in white.
Mirage was the ocelot. He was smaller in stature to the other two. His gorgeous ocelot fur coat covered his upper arms, upper legs and all of his back and his calves. His beast mode head was split into two parts, resting on his shoulders. His metal front was a navy blue, which contrasted dramatically to his lighter, golden coat with black spots rimmed in white. His face was catlike as well and lime green optics shone out from it. Holstered to the side of his upper right leg was a black gun that had a little multi-coloured rectangle down its side.
"Right, well, as you can see, Blage," Tarantulas said to the Jaguarundi who was seated in beast mode to his left. "Your siblings are online and healthy and ready for battle. Today we will prepare to attack. All we have to do is try and find out what's taking Kaiya, and then we will adjust our plans accordingly. Hopefully, soon, we'll be set to take out Megatron and his Predacons."
Tarantulas cringed. All that speaking, and all he gets is a dumb 'acknowledged'.
"We should get started on the Kaiya part now," Galena said.
"How're we going to go about that?" Tarantulas asked.
"Simple, go to the Maximal base and ask to speak to her. If they refuse you that, we'll attack. If they're still alive at this stage, then Kaiya's either joined them or been terminated."
Tarantulas scratched his chin. "I suppose that is a fairly decent plan. Ok, then, let's move out tonight. I wanna prep them first."
"Suit yourself. I personally don't think they need any preparation," Galena said absently.
Dinobot breathed out a heavy sigh as he stepped out of the base. The air was chill and quick about him, but in the stiller moments he could feel the warm glow of the sun gradually growing in intensity.
He was in beast mode and walked, camouflaged in the tall grass, through the open field. The ground sprouted tall grass at this time of year. It was a welcome change, as one could leave the base relatively unnoticed.
Neolca had not left his mind. Her dying breath haunted him every second of the day. Yet, each time he felt the pain of loss coming to him, he'd shrug it away, put it off for some other time. He knew he was simply post-phoning his grief. It would get to him eventually, but for as long as he could, he was going to hold out against it. He could not show weakness in front of the Maximals. It was just...wrong...for one such as himself, to show such emotion openly.
He was lost in his thoughts when he bumped into Emerald. She stood up as he arrived and she walked straight into him, head into his stomach.
"Oomf! Gosh, I'm forever bumping into you! This is getting scary."
He glanced down at her. She looked up at him.
Her little face was worn and sad, he noticed. There was an air of maturity about her now. Her eyes seemed older.
"How are you?" she asked softly, tentatively.
Dinobot opened his mouth to speak, caught off guard. He was feeling emotional right then and there, and very nearly slipped up and said something to her. But he saved himself, and growled. "I am doing fine. What are you doing outside?"
"What are YOU doing outside?" she shot back.
There was an intense silence between them. Dinobot felt flustered at the way she was looking at him. She knew! She was looking straight through him.
"Everyone needs some.. time alone, once in a while," he snarled, and walked around her.
"That's true," she called after him. "And I respect that. Yet, Dinobot, sometimes you need some time with someone else. Someone you can trust, to help ease the burden of what is troubling you."
He froze in mid-step and then turned suddenly. "Stay out of my business, Emerald, and I shall stay out of yours."
He turned away from her again and stalked away. She watched him for a moment, then headed back for the Axalon with a sigh.
She was surprised to see her Uncle stepping out of the lift. "I thought he needed me inside for something," she murmured to herself, and walked towards him.
"Emerald," he said gently, and she could tell something was not right.
He gazed past her and she turned and followed his gaze. Dinobot was slinking through the last stretch of grass towards the forest.
"He needs time to grieve, Uncle," she said.
He turned and looked down at her. "And we need time to talk. Properly."
"Oh," she sighed. "So, this is the something you 'needed help with'?"
"I wanted to get you alone. I don't want...Rattrap, or anyone else around for this talk."
"It's important, huh?"
She bit her lip and paused. "I know a nice spot, just over there, overlooking the canyon," she suggested, pointing.
He nodded and they arrived and seated themselves at the spot a few moments later. It was a nice, quiet area just outside the shadow of the rear of the Axalon.
Emerald let her legs dangle over the edge, as she always did when she was here. Rhinox did the same, although he did not sway them back and forth like she did - a restless habit of hers.
"I am so sorry, Emerald, that you've had to suffer so much while you've been here," he began.
"Sh, let me finish. And, I know you have forgiven me for what I said and how I behaved, even though I haven't forgiven myself. It would be selfish of me, though, to leave it at that and not consult what you're feeling right now. I know you are handling things by yourself in your own way, but I want you to know that you can always talk to me. Perhaps, after what I said, you don't want to trust me anymore, and I don't blame you. But, I just wanted you to realize that I am here for you. I'm also aware that I don't say this often enough - you are my niece, and I care for you deeply."
Emerald looked at him with curious eyes. "Uncle Rhinox, you don't need to tell me all this. I know! And I do trust you. How could I not? You're my favourite uncle!"
He chuckled softly. "I'm your only uncle."
She grinned. "That too."
His smile faded slowly. "Seriously. Are you managing?"
She smiled a little wearily. "I'm coping, yes."
He paused, obviously unsure of what to say next.
"What about him?"
She looked away and into the distance, her face serious and unhappy.
"Rattrap... did some things while he was under Kaiya's influence...that I'm finding difficult to get over."
Rhinox was immediately alarmed. Rattrap was his oldest friend of the Axalon crew, but he had seen the effect Kaiya had had on him. She had brought out his old ways, his carelessness, his tactlessness. Such attributes could be harmful to a young, developing femme, and he was concerned.
"What things?" he asked, trying to sound calm. He didn't want to push her.
She was having difficulty, he could see, in bringing this up.
Emerald knew what her uncle had just said, and she'd promised him she still trusted him. To bail out on telling him the truth now would be poor show of that.
She sighed. "He...well, Kaiya led him to believe... Ok, in short, he kissed me. And I wasn't ready for it. And yes, I have liked him a while, but I didn't want that to happen in the way it did, under the circumstances that were there. I feel like a boundary was crossed at the wrong time. I've been ignoring him while I've been trying to sort my emotions out."
Rhinox nodded. He wasn't pleased, but he was relieved that that was all that had happened. He'd also been aware of how tender Rattrap had become with Emerald, unlike he used to be - playful and teasing.
"It's been a month and a half. How'd you feel about him now?" he asked gently.
She buried her face in her hands. "I don't know..." she muffled out, sounding like a confused little girl. The flash of her old innocence and naivety was strangely comforting to Rhinox.
He patted her shoulder lightly. He hardly ever did that, not being a very physical, touchy-feely kind of guy. But he felt she needed the comfort.
"Rattrap may be years older than you, Emerald, but he's as inexperienced in situations like this as you are. Life and love have always been a game to him. I think he's so hurt and subdued at the moment, because this is serious and...more precious to him, than previous relationships. I think that maybe you should try to open up you friendship again. Just take it little bit by little bit. I promise you, Emerald, he's waiting on you, and he's aching all the while."
She uncovered her face and gazed at him with unreadable eyes. "You're so wise, Uncle Rhinox."
He laughed at that. "Well I should be! I've been around a long time!"
"Why didn't you ever have children?" she asked, and the question surprised him. He paused, then smiled at her.
"It's not something I ever planned. Besides, having a niece like you more than makes up for a lack of kids. You're like a daughter to me."
"Awww," she said and cuddled him. Emerald was also not very much into physical contact, but when she did hug him, he knew it was genuine, and it always made him happy. He patted her softly on the head.
"My little gem..."
The moment was spoiled by an abrasive beep from Emerald's comm.
"Pred activity in sector 12. That's your zone, Ems, and it's your turn," Cheetor said.
She sighed and pulled out of the hug. "Ok, Cheets." She cut the connection. "Gotta go. I've got work to do."
"Me too," Rhinox said with a nod and stood up as she did.
She transformed to beast mode and took to the air. "Thanks for the talk, Uncle R. I think we did need it, and I'm glad we found the time."
He nodded with an acknowledging smile and she flew off towards Sector 12.
Also bothered by a comm. call was Dinobot, and now he was heading to Sector 12 as back-up for Emerald. Great. If nothing was there when they arrived, Emerald was bound to nag him to pour his heart out to her. How femmes could persist in things like that! She had been niggling at him for a month. Subtly, granted, but it was still niggling!
He arrived to see her circling in the sky above a barren stretch of rock and sparse trees.
"Emerald to Dinobot. I can't see anything up here, how about down there?"
Dinobot scanned the area and sniffed the air. There was a strong scent of Tarantulas, as well as several different ones. And yet, he couldn't see anyone. He took some curious steps forward, poking his raptor head around mounds of sand, termite hills, mainly, and some dry, stubby trees.
"I can smell Tarantulas, but I cannot see him."
A whisper. Dinobot froze and listened. The whisper was barely on the edge of his hearing, but it was there. He had not imagined it.
"Dinobot?" Emerald's voice came over his comm.
"Someone's here, Emerald. Stand by," he growled and moved forward towards the source of the whisper. A large rockslide of stones were up ahead. The wind whipped around his feet with a ghostly moan and the trees rustled. Then there was a lull, and another, oh-so-faint whisper.
"Show yourself!" Dinobot snarled.
Emerald flapped down gracefully and landed beside him.
"Are you sure someone's-"
He narrowed his eyes and glared at the ground several feet ahead. It was scuffed and there were faint traces of wheel tracks. Definitely Tarantulas.
"There's Predacon activity here, but none that is visible."
"You're saying they're invisible?" she asked.
"Possibly," he replied, irritated by how ridiculous it sounded. Mind you, after all that had happened, the supernatural and such did not seem so radical anymore.
"Then we're sitting ducks to an attack out here," Emerald said. "Let's head back and report our findings, or lack thereof."
Dinobot wasn't sure how to interpret that. "Do you believe me or not, Emerald?" he asked.
She flapped her wings and caught an updraught. "I believe something is definitely amiss here."
She flew up and waited for him to turn back. He grumbled. He'd have to go back to base. He was ordered by Optimus to protect her. He wasn't really back-up so much as a guardian, albeit a secret one. Throughout the entire Kaiya incident, he had been Emerald's only ally and so he was the only one she trusted. Optimus realized that, so did Rhinox, and as a result Dinobot had been appointed her protector. They figured after all she'd been through, she needed someone watching over her; someone she could trust.
In truth Dinobot was not upset with the decision. Emerald was an admirable little femme. A strong character with an iron will and sheer determination. She'd held her own even when it seemed her whole world was against her. She was, in his eyes, a warrior of her own truths.
"Are you coming?" she asked. "I don't wanna leave you here without supervision!" He smirked, tempted to tell her it was her that needed supervising, but instead he replied: "On my way!" and turned tail and left Sector 12.
Megatron glared at his computer screen. Tarantulas's signal plus another one had briefly flickered onto the screen in Sector 12. Shortly after that, the Maximals had arrived to check it out. He'd detected no activity from them, and so they returned to their base. Odd.
"I wonder who those two could have bee," he mused. A thought struck him, and he shuddered. Could it be there were other survivors of the Six out there? Ones like Kaiya? Or maybe it was what the disc showed. The second being. Tarantulas was out there, he knew, but somehow the spider was masking his signature. Then perhaps that was a glitch in his masking device, and he'd had a brief, unintentional look at Tarantulas and his Vok friend. It was not a nice thought: Tarantulas having that much power.
It was a mystery to Megatron why the Maximals had not capitalized on Kaiya's power. As far as he knew, she was still on their side, although she'd never appeared in a single battle for over a month. Her absence led to various unsettling thoughts and ideas running through his head. Maybe she was powering up? Or developing some Vok technology that would destroy him?
In any case, Sector 12 was another mystery, and one he intended investigating.
He opened a comm. channel to Rampage.
"Megatron to Rampage!"
"Aaaah! You just scared away my meal!"
"What's it to you?"
Megatron shivered with disgust. Certainly, their beast modes craved food, but as a sophisticated Transformer, Megatron did not succumb to such primal urges, and instead satisfied himself with energon. It was not an important issue, however.
"Never mind that. I want you to stay close to sector 12, and remain well-hidden. I have a pretty good hunch that's where Tarantulas is hiding."
"Sector 12. Barren and dry. Great place to hide."
"Well he's doing it somehow, and I expect you to as well! Report to me on your findings. Megatron out."
He closed the connection curtly and watched the screen. Rampage disappeared off his scanners. It still intrigued him as to how the crab-bot managed to elude them. He'd never gotten around to asking him. Even so, it was an advantage right now. Rampage would be undetected by Tarantulas, and would therefore be able to get in close. Just what Megatron needed.
"That was close," Galena breathed.
"You're telling me!" Tarantulas grumbled as he stood up. He'd been crouching behind a rock. "Good thing we had Mirage with us to confuse the raptor and bird."
"You almost blew our cover!" she accused, glaring at him. "You don't whisper so close to an approaching Maximal! Even if he can't see us!"
"I detected a glitch on my signature blocker. Seeing as you and I have the first prototype and the others have the 2nd, I thought we may have shared the glitch. It alarmed me."
Galena glanced at Mirage, who was sitting beside Blage. The two were watching the conversation between herself and the Transmetal spider with blank looks. For once, Galena was irritated by their lack of intelligence. She wanted someone to back her in this argument.
"Couldn't it have alarmed you later? Now the raptor is suspicious, and we're going to have to be on full alert all the time!"
"Dinobot is always suspicious! And having Megatron spot our signatures is a far worse threat than Dinobot hearing a whisper or two."
Galena groaned and rolled her eyes. "Great. Just peachy!"
Tarantulas shrugged with a mocking expression. "It's YOUR invention."
"Yeah!" she reeled on him, "built with your lame parts!"
Tarantulas let that one slide. "Well, at least we know Mirage's capabilities. That was an excellent illusion."
Galena glared at Mirage. "You hear that, bonehead? Tarantulas gave you a compliment!"
Galena remained still, and cracked her knuckles. "Right. Now, let's see if Blage can move that obelisk over there."
Tarantulas eyed the enormous rock near the entrance to his lair. "It's an awfully big obelisk."
"Blage, move that obelisk," Galena instructed.
Blage strode over to it and with one hand sent it rolling twelve feet, without the slightest effort.
"Ah! What strength!" Tarantulas exclaimed.
"Blage, I love you," Galena said and patted him on the head. Blage blinked at her dumbly.
"Well, Sandstone made grass grow inside my lair-" Tarantulas began, recounting the events of the morning.
"Which made my bed extra soft!" Galena interrupted gleefully.
"-So we know she can muster forces within the earth. I don't suggest we ask her to do anything heavier. We don't want Megatron to pick up an earthquake in this area too. That'll make him, and the Maximals, even more suspicious."
"So all we have to left to test is our dear panther! Now, who should we poison?"
Tarantulas clapped his claws together with eager anticipation. "The next scout who wanders into out terrain shall be Venox's experiment!"
Galena cocked an eyebrow. "Oh, that'll REALLY stop the suspicions running, if a scout dies of alien poisoning."
"We'll do it tonight when we attack, then, if you're going to be so fussy," Tarantulas said and looked at Venox, who upon hearing his name, had emerged from the lair.
"Venox, I order you to poison the grass in the lair."
"Tarantulas, no!" Galena protested and ran after Venox, but it was too late. When she entered the lair, her bedding was dry, dead grass, no longer green and luscious.
Tarantulas snickered behind her as he walked in. "I prefer my lair to be free of plants, thank you very much, Venox."
Galena glowered at the spider. "You're a nasty piece of work, you know that?"
He grinned as best as his mandibles would allow. "That's why we're a team, Galena."
Dinobot, on the last fifty meter stretch back to the Axalon, caught a rabbit. He didn't intend to eat it, he just saw it darting across his path and lunged at it. This was prehistoric Earth, but not so far back in time that rabbits were used to the speed and jumping skills of a velociraptor.
It turned out the rabbit had an injured back-leg, which obviously did help him catch it. He held it under his big claw as Emerald settled down next to him.
"Dinobot! Leave it alone!"
Dinobot snorted. "Don't fret, Emerald. I'm not hungry, and far be it from me to eat prey that hasn't a chance to escape me. This rabbit it injured."
She knelt and put her hands around it as Dinobot let up his claw.
"It's just a baby, too. Aww, poor thing," she said as she held it against her chest, feeling the softness behind its ears. It's left back-leg hung limply behind it.
Dinobot watched her cradle the small animal and sighed. "I don't see Optimus taking to your new pet very well."
"Optimus won't even question my taking in this rabbit," she said, looking up at him. Dinobot returned the stare.
"Perhaps, as you are on his sympathy list," Dinobot growled and started for the Axalon.
"You are too, Dinobot," she said after him. He froze and then turned to face her with barely contained anger. "I don't want anyone's sympathy, Emerald."
He left her kneeling in the grass. She didn't pursue the matter. Instead she stood up and clasped the beige rabbit close to her. Upon closer inspection she found it to be a hare, which made more sense, as this was an African savannah. Even so, she got great pleasure out of saying "Bunny". Something about the affectionate human word for rabbits and hares made her smile inside. It was such a gentle, loving word. Childish, and innocent as the eyes of the creature itself.
She heard the grass crunch behind her and she turned around to see Rattrap stop seven feet ahead of her.
"Oh, so that's who you're talkin' to," he said lightly.
"Dinobot found him. He's got a broken leg, I think," she said and dropped her gaze, letting it rest of the back of the animal's head.
"Can I see?" he asked after a few tentative moments.
"Be careful with him," she said and handed the hare over carefully. Rattrap took it by its underarms and smiled before he let it rest in his arms.
"It's actually a her."
Emerald looked on with some fondness as Rattrap stroked the terrified little animal with gentle hands. He scratched it softly behind its ears and gazed down at it, seemingly in thought.
"What you gonna call it?" he asked suddenly. The question took her by surprise. She didn't realize how enveloped she was in watching him until then.
"Oh? Uh...um, I dunno. Gotta think about it."
"Well if Dinobot found it an' didn't eat it, I'd say 'Lucky' is a good name," Rattrap said with a grin. She was unable to suppress her own smile.
"Lucky. Yes, that is a good name."
Rattrap gave her back the hare and seemed to shy away when their hands brushed against each other. He was trying so hard not to invade her personal space, Emerald could see.
He stood, unsure of what to do afterwards, as she cuddled the hare in silence.
He cleared his throat. "Hhhhm. Uh, Emmie?" A cringe. He's used an old pet name.
"Emerald," he tried again, "Optimus wants you inside. He wants a report from both you an' choppuh face as ta what ya found."
She nodded without a word and walked past him. He turned to watch her go, trying to quell the pain rising inside of him. Their conversation had been so dry, so bland. No longer did Emerald communicate the youthful zeal she used to. She was cold and indifferent towards him, and it hurt.
Had he really lost her?